Colonel takes command of oft-deployed 173rd Airborne

By KENT HARRIS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 8, 2008

VICENZA, Italy — The 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team has deployed three times in the last five years to Iraq and Afghanistan. On Tuesday, the brigade’s soldiers officially met the commander who will likely lead them during their next stint downrange.

Col. James H. Johnson III took command of the Sky Soldiers from Col. Charles Preysler in a ceremony on Caserma Ederle.

"Your reputation as a fighting unit is unmatched," Johnson told the soldiers during his brief remarks.

The 173rd recently enhanced that reputation with a 14-month deployment to Afghanistan.

"There were so many episodes of individual courage displayed that it would take all day to recount," Preysler said.

During his remarks, the outgoing commander also paid tribute to spouses, the fallen and those standing on the parade field. Forty-two soldiers died during their latest deployment.

Brig. Gen. William Garrett, the Southern European Task Force (Airborne) commander, said Preysler deserves recognition for leading the brigade through a tough deployment. But he also deserves credit for directing its transformation into a brigade combat team, Garrett said, for "essentially doubling in size while spreading out over three installations."

The brigade also had to switch gears months before deploying. It was originally supposed to go to Iraq but was then directed to Afghanistan.

Johnson has deployed once to Afghanistan and twice to Iraq. He comes to Vicenza after studying at the Naval War College and commanding the 101st Airborne Division’s 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment.

Johnson takes over command of a brigade that features six battalions in three locations — Vicenza and Bamberg and Schweinfurt in Germany. Though it’s likely he’ll be commanding the Sky Soldiers during their next rotation downrange, it will fall to a successor to consolidate the command in Vicenza. That’s expected to take place in 2012.

Preysler’s next assignment is as operations group commander for the Joint Multinational Training Command in Hohenfels, Germany.

Command Sgt. Maj. Nicholas A. Rolling assumed duties as the brigade’s top enlisted soldier during the ceremony. Rolling’s last assignment was with the 82nd Airborne Division. He takes over for Command Sgt. Maj. Isaia T. Vimoto.

Vimoto’s oldest son, Pfc. Timothy Vimoto, was one of the brigade’s soldiers killed in Afghanistan.

Col. James H. Johnson III takes the guidon of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team from Brig. Gen. William B. Garrett III during the change-of-command ceremony on Caserma Ederle in Vicenza, Italy.

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